A Whole New Piece of (Raspberry) Pi
Learning about computers can seem like a monumental task. Coding, soldering, parts compatibility, debugging, and the like are enough to discourage many users from breaking into this awesome realm. Thankfully there is a simple, low cost alternative to learn about how computers work, from the group up.
Enter, the Raspberry Pi.
If you’re not familiar with the raspberry pi, essentially, it is a mini programmable computer about the size of a credit card that you can program with text based Python or visual Scratch coding languages.
For those really unfamiliar, check out this “as fast as possible” video on the Raspberry Pi, and this game I made Scratch Coding, using Scratch!
Raspberry pi as fast as possible
introduction to scratch coding
Sample Raspberry Pi Projects
The Raspberry Pi is incredibly powerful and diverse in its ranges. Many K-12 schools, universities, and DIY tech enthusiasts use the Pi on a daily basis to solve tasks that you would not have even though were a problem, or thought you would need, until now. Just look at some of the cool things you can make!
On a side closer to home, here is a highschool student project (at my school, Korea International School), that combined woodworking, 3D printing, electronics, and AutoCAD engineering with the Raspberry Pi to create a retro arcade gamebox!
Wireless Raspberry Pi: EzBlock Pi
Up to this point, coding on the Raspberry Pi required a desktop computer and a USB type B connection to be able to connect to the Pi and code. While this is convenient, it does not allow for mobile computing, or for the ability to run code from a mobile device like a tablet or smartphone. This is where SunFounder’s extension board, EzBlock Pi, comes in.
ExBlock Pi introduces two new features to the Raspberry Pi with it’s extension, add on board to the original Pi:
The ability to “flash” (essentially execute and run code) wirelessly without needing to plug in the Pi to your device. This wireless & bluetooth board also opens up the functionality of the Pi for IFTTT integration, Bluetooth remote control, and voice control.
To tag along with the board, a mobile App was created that allows for programming the Pi “on the go” from a tablet or smartphone using either Python or (unfortunately) Blockly programming languages. (The decision against scratch’s new, non-java based code for the Pi is unfortunately disappointing)
Take a look at SunFounder’s Kickstarter video, it has been funded over 4x above the project’s original goal of $10,000 (as of the time of this writing).
Note: the English translation in this video is not amazing, nor across the entire website (the company is located in ShenZhen, China). Taking the time to find an English translating service would certainly help with Sunfounder’s branding. As noted in other Amazon reviews (2,3,4), the products themselves are great, however, the English translations/manuals are typically broken and hard to comprehend.
Should you Buy/Invest in it?
For our purposes, we’ll be using the Cube Method to decide whether you should, as an educator, buy, or invest in Sunfounder’s EzBlock Pi board & App. The Cube Method consists of 6 “faces” for facilitating the decision as to whether a venture is worthwhile for investing or not. Scoring will consist of a 6 tiered rating scale, with a maximum score for any face at “+++” and a minimum score of “- - -”.
1. Type of Market ++ (K-12, Higher Education, Commercial)
2. Type of Offering ++ (Service, Content or Infrastructure)
3. Who is the Buyer? + because learners don't often choose their own learning technology products.
4. Global Target +What piece(s) of the global market are we talking about - because learning technology doesn't always "go" everywhere the Internet does.
5. Market Status + How developed is the local market? - because the sweet spot for success is in the middle of the development curve.
6. Competition ++ How integrated is learning technology with the rest of the educational system - because without that integration learning technology struggles.
Market & Offering
As with other Raspberry Pi devices, these credit card computers are geared towards middle school and beyond, branching into DIY techies and university students. However, with the introduction of a mobile app that functions on the iPad, albeit with Blockly as opposed to Scratch, this opens up the very real possibility to use this add on board with upper elementary students as well. There is an excellent, wide open market opportunity for EzBlock Pi without any other competing wireless boards that are functioning on the market at the moment.
This being said, the market for the Raspberry Pi is highly specialized, however, in the specialized nature of this market this product is highly unique and likely for high(er) sales than other custom boards on the market for the Pi. Unfortunately, the App itself, while still in beta, is mediocre at best. While it does allow for the use block style coding, as well as Python, Sunfounder’s history of English translations have been subpar at best, and downwrite incomprehensible at worst. This makes the likelihood of this app being a working interface slim. That being said, as long as it has the main syntax blocks translated fine, which it does currently, and the end user typing Python uses correct syntax, there should not be an issue in flashing the code itself to the product, even if the translation is a little off.
Buyer Potential & Global Presence +++
Thankfully, the EzBlock Pi has a wide open market as it works with current Pi’s on the market, and, supposedly, new Pi’s on the future market as well. Educators can buy this for K-12 through higher ed, as well as personally for DIY tech projects. Seeing as the Raspberry Pi is already a low cost alternative, starting at just $25, and the add on board at $35, there is a huge potential for a large market with this add-on board all around the world from Level 1 Income countries all the way through Level 4 income countries. (Income classifications of countries vs. first/third world distinction description here)
Market Status & Competition ++
While the EzBlock Pi is filling a need in the Raspberry Pi market, it is only for a narrow window in time. While there is no official word from Raspberry Pi, it is likely that the next iteration of the Raspberry Pi will include wiFi and Bluetooth built directly onto the board for flashing code to the Pi without the need to connect physically to the device. This unfortunately means that the ExBlock Pi has a limited shelf life as a new product. That being said, the latest Raspberry Pi, 3 Model B+, was released in March of 2018, and still does not natively support Flashing code over wiFi, despite being WiFi & Bluetooth compatible. However, even once a WiFi compatible (for flashing code) board is released, the EzBlock Pi can still be a useful add on for legacy boards.
As for the App itself, while unique at the moment in its ability to code the Pi on a tablet or smartphone, it is also only a matter of time before another developer comes along and creates a similar App in functionality.
Given all of this, the EzBlock Pi has a limited shelf life for new Pi’s, but still gains the ability for users to upgrade legacy boards to gain WiFi compatibility. While the EzBlock Pi is not released yet, it has an estimated shipping date of Sept 2019, though the reliability of Kickstarter projects to ship when they say they will is questionable, with 84% shipping late, so take this shipping date with a grain of salt.
SHOULD YOU BUY THE EZBLOCK PI?
Like many things in life, it depends.
Buy If you are a:
DIY tech enthusiast
Like to be on the leading edge of tech change
An elementary/middle school teacher who already owns a legacy Raspberry Pi and wants a functionality upgrade
Don’t mind writing in python, or working with a mobile App in beta
This would be a good investment to make. The WiFi flashing ability is incredibly useful for users and this is a solid upgrade.
Do Not buy if you are a:
Person who does not need the latest and greatest, and is willing to wait several years to make an upgrade
Are a beginner programmer who is not willing to work through bugs